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The Garden Palace





© Warren Fahey


The formal opening of the first International Exhibition ever held in the Southern hemisphere may have lacked the gorgeous surroundings with which such events are usually celebrated in the leading European capitals, but it was none the less a brilliant success, especially when the numerous difficulties experienced by those having charge of the arrangements are taken into consideration. Only a few days previously the interior of the Exhibition Building was crowded with packing cases of every size and shape, which caused the place to resemble more the interior of an English railway goods station rather than that of a temple devoted to the glorification of the industrial arts. Nowhere was the slightest attempt at order apparent; it was simply a state of chaos, and to make matters worse there appeared no diminution in the onward flow of exhibits. Day after day, from “dewy morn till dusky eve” an endless procession of loaded drays slowly passed through the Macquarie Street gates, to the great bewilderment and even consternation of the officials, who found themselves driven almost to their wits’ end to obtain space for the various packages.

But “where there’s a will there’s a way.” The fiat went forth that the Exhibition should be opened at the time appointed, and that every exhibitor should be compelled to do his duty, all protests notwithstanding, and assist in making a respectable show. The effect
was magical. In a single day the Colonial and British Courts appeared completely transformed, the labour of weeks having become concentrated within the space of a few hours. The rapidity with which empty packing cases were hurried out of the Palace, the walls made bright with gay-coloured carpets, and unsightly unoccupied spaces concealed by screens and flags, has never been paralleled. It enabled the Exhibition to be opened with due ceremony at the hour arranged, thereby showing to all that “impossible” was a word unknown at the Antipodes. The moral effect of this in Europe will be great. . . . True, there remains much to be done before the display of industrial arts can be pronounced perfect, but every day brings us nearer and nearer to the welcome hour when the finishing touch shall have been given, and the Exhibition be declared complete.

Long before then, however, the civilised world will have expressed its opinion respecting the indomitable pluck and energy which has enabled a colony, “the youngest born of nations”, to fearlessly emulate the efforts of States whose populations are numbered by millions, and whose industrial history extends far back into the remote past. At one stride we have joined the great brotherhood of peoples. We are a colony only in name. The leading powers of the world have recognised our commercial and political importance by sending their ships of war to rendezvous in the glittering waters of Port Jackson. The words of the Governor-General declaring the Garden Palace open to the people have been flashed to the most distant lands, and everywhere—north, east, west, and south—the name of the busy and prosperous capital of New South Wales has become as “familiar as a household word”,
and to think that all this has been the work of a few months! It is almost incredible; but when once the Australian colonist makes up his mind to do a thing he does it. His motto is “thorough”. He believes in labour, and is not ashamed of being seen working in his shirt-sleeves. Therein is to be found the secret of his success; while others were talking he was toiling. “He who would win must work,” says the old motto, and its truth has been proved by the unsurpassed success of the splendid industrial exposition to which visitors are flocking from all parts of the world. …

It is difficult to restrain one’s enthusiasm when it is remembered that history furnishes no similar instance of a country which, less than a century previously was the undisturbed haunt of the savage, successfully rivalling, and in some respects surpassing, the grandest efforts of lands whose names have become the landmarks of human progress. Well may we shout “Advance Australia”; for we are progressing at a rate which even the most go-ahead Yankee must envy.

The “Illustrated Sydney News”, 4 October 1879


(King of the Cannibal Isles)


From east and west, and. south and north,
Past-haste the visitors set forth
To face the winds and water’s wrath—
And mal-de-mer’s condition!
All who can raise the cash to go—
Tom, Dick, and. Harry, high and. low—
To Sydney now in numbers flow
To see the Exhibition.

Our Governor has led the way—
Sir William’s gone, respects to pay
To Loftus, for a holiday
He’s taken intermission;
‘While Sammy once more rules the roast—
A man well fitted for the post—
He doesn’t care to join the host
At Sydney’s Exhibition.

And J. M. Wendt, who sent a case,
Of goldsmith’s work immense to grace
The show in South Australia’s place,
Designed for competition;
Has started on his briny trip,
All cares of trade for once let slip,
Resolved in purse this time to dip
For Sydney’s Exhibition.

Old Graham Berry, not content
With all the public money spent
On Embassy, when he was sent
Home, with a big petition;
Intends next week to shut up shop,
All Legislative brawling stop,
And rig himself in suit of slop,
For Sydney’s Exhibition.

Turks, Jews, and Chinamen all flock
To land, and look at Mort’s famed dock,
Or eat a native ” Sydney rock.”
In spite of prohibition.
From. men on strike, John means to go,
And sport his pigtail at the Show;
While Melbourne sends Kong Meng & Co.
To Sydney’s Exhibition.

They say that lodgings can’t be got,
Unless you like to pay the shot
Of charges made uncommon hot;
Not even the petition
Of homeless families avails,
Or sleepy children’s horrid, wails;
And lots are roosting on the rails
Bound Sydney’s Exhibition.

Well, let us hope they’ll all enjoy
Their trip, with nothing to annoy;
And that the host of sights won’t cloy,
Or pall by repetition;
While we, who forced at home to stay,
Without a chance to get away,
Read in the papers day by day
Of Sydney’s Exhibition.

Some explanations are necessary to explain the cast.

J M Wendt – Adelaide Silversmith (royal patronage)

Lowe Kong Meng – 1833-1888Merchant and Chinese community leader.
A popular and enlightened leader in Melbourne’s Chinese community, Kong Meng supervised Chinese clubs, settled disputes among his countrymen, helped them to find work and urged them to respect the British flag, law and justice. In 1859 he initiated a petition against the annual residence tax of £4 on every Chinese resident. He and two other Chinese leaders, Cheong Cheok Hong and Louis Ah Mouy, wrote a pamphlet in 1879 on The Chinese Question in Australia, 1878-1879, presenting the Chinese case on immigration restrictions. One of the main arguments was that the British government should apply the 1860 Peking Treaty to allow Chinese migrants to enter British territories as it gave reciprocal access to Britishers to enter China. In 1887 with other leading Chinese in Melbourne he helped to organize the Victorian Chinese petition to the two visiting Chinese commissioners, General Wong Yung Ho and U Tsing, against anti-Chinese immigration restriction laws. During the 1888 anti-Chinese campaigns in both New South Wales and Victoria, Kong Meng again took an active part in protesting against anti-Chinese legislation.

Despite his attitude towards the immigration issue, Kong Meng was far from unpopular and was elected by the Victorian government as a commissioner for the Melbourne Exhibitions in 1880 and 1888. Contemporary Australian writers described him as ‘cultured’, ‘superior’, ‘influential’ and ‘highly esteemed’, a gentleman with an ‘exceedingly generous disposition’ who ‘gave liberally to churches and public charities, without respect to creed and denomination’. His leadership of the Chinese community in Victoria was also recognized by Emperor T’ung Ch’ih, who conferred on him the title of mandarin of the blue button, civil order, in 1863.

Sir Graham Berry – 1822-1904 Speaker: 1894-1897 Legislative Assembly: 1861-1865, 1869-1886, 1892-1897
Berry was Speaker between 1894 and 1897, at the end of a long and tempestuous political career and at a time when his powers were failing. He had been born near London and emigrated to Victoria with his wife in 1852. Initially he established himself as a storekeeper and wine and spirits merchant in South Yarra, but soon became a prominent radical speaker arguing for the reform of the distribution of wealth and power in society. His parliamentary career began in 1861 when he won the Legislative Assembly seat of East Melbourne, which he retained until 1865. During this period he was a prominent radical and protectionist.

The Garden Palace was a large purpose-built exhibition building constructed to house the Sydney International Exhibition (1879). It was designed by James Barnet and was constructed at a cost of 191,800 Pounds in only eight months – largely due to the special importation from England of electric lighting which enabled work to be carried out around-the-clock.

A reworking of London’s Crystal Palace, it is visually similar in many respects to the later Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne; the Sydney building consisted of three turreted wings meeting beneath a central dome. Sydney’s first hydraulic lift was contained in the north tower. The building was sited at what is today the southwestern end of the Royal Botanic Gardens (although at the time it was built it occupied land that was outside the Gardens). It was constructed primarily from timber, which was to assure its complete destruction when engulfed by fire in the early morning of September 22, 1882.

The only extant remains of the Garden Palace are its carved sandstone gateposts and wrought iron gates, located on the Macquarie Street entrance to the Royal Botanical Gardens.[1] A 1940s-era sunken garden and fountain featuring a statue of Cupid marks the former location of the Palace’s dome. The only artifact from the International Exhibition to survive the fire – a carved graphite statue of an elephant, from Ceylon – is on exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum. WF (with thanks to Wikipedia)



On holidays Sydney Harbour is indeed a sight. Every available craft that will float in water, with or without baling, is chartered for the occasion. Steamers crowded with passengers ply to and fro to the many piers on the harbour, and up the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers. Others take huge picnic parties, consisting often of all the hands employed in a large industrial or commercial concern with their families, to some landing place convenient for an organised festivity of that kind. There are races for rowing-boats, and races for sailing boats, without end. Indeed, the boats, with and without sails, are like the sand on the sea-shore for numbers. I If there is a breeze, the water on the rivers and less exposed bays is clouded with canvas. Every form of sail is to be seen; often the small boats have so many sails ingeniously arranged in all sorts of unexpected places, that there is little else but sail to be seen, and they look like so many white feathers skimming over the surface of the water. When a good breeze blows, as one of them expressed it, “We do go scoot’n’ along,
I can assure you.” “Scoot’n’ ” certainly expresses the way they go. One thinks of the sharks of which there are plenty, and shudders.

Ernest Moon in “Blackwood’s Magazine”, March 1888